When Effect Comes Before Cause

two men fightingWhile reading a book, have you ever found yourself saying There’s something wrong with that sentence, but I can’t quite figure out what?

Do you stop to figure out what’s wrong or just keep reading? I’m guilty of doing both, depending on the circumstances of the moment. Of course, if I’m editing a manuscript, I stop to figure it out.

Today, let’s take a look at what might be the problem.

Effect then Cause

Ex. 1: With a resounding thud, Tristen’s adversary hit the floor as Tristen swung his fist.

Did the adversary see the fist coming and dive for the floor to avoid it? Or did he end up on the floor because Tristen hit him? We need additional information to help us decipher the action described.

Ex 2: The homemade volcano bubbled over as she poured in the vinegar.

We’re all familiar with the homemade volcano using soda and vinegar, so we can make sense out of Sentence 2 more readily.

After reading these, do you find yourself looking back at the beginning of the sentence? Maybe not, because these are simple, short sentences. And understand, there is nothing grammatically wrong here.

But what comes first in the sentences above?

We have the result of an action (effect) happening before the action (cause). The proverbial cart before the horse. In other words, rather than reading cause and effect, we’re reading effect and cause. It’s like watch a video as it rewinds. You know the action should be moving forward, but it’s going backwards.

Putting the effect before the cause can jerk the forward momentum of your action scene backwards. If the error is serious it can bring that forward momentum to a complete stand still while the reader stops to figure things out. I have been pulled completely out of the story in order to decipher the action taking place because it was out of order.

Cause and Effect

Let’s put our action and result in the correct order.

  1. Tristen swung his fist and his adversary hit the floor with a resounding thud.
  2. As she poured in the vinegar, the homemade volcano bubbled over.

Those read much more smoothly, don’t they? Can you feel the difference in your body as you read? (I know I do.) Putting cause and effect in their proper order compels your readers to move forward in their reading rather than jerking them backwards.

This same thing can happen with dialog when you describe a voice before a person has spoken.

Ex. 3: Sammy heard the quiver in Jackie’s words. “I don’t’ want to go outside in that storm.”

How can Sammy hear a quiver before the words are spoken? This is another case of result before action.

When I write, I visualize every movement and write that movement as I see it happen in my mind. That helps me avoid putting effect before cause.

Do you have some action sequences in your story that don’t quite flow like they should? Reread those scenes and check to see if you have the effect before the cause.

Need some help? Drop a sentence or two in the comments below and we’ll see if we can figure out what’s not working.

Want to get published but don’t know where to start?

Maybe you have a finished manuscript or just an idea stuck in your head. Email me today at Deb [at] DebraLButterfield [dot] com, and let's discuss how I can help you reach your dream of publication.

%d bloggers like this: